Polymorphous anxieties and perverse pleasures:

Drugs, moral panics and the dispositive

seminar presented by Dr Cary Bennett, Lecturer, Sociology, University of New England

3pm Tuesday 3rd May 2016

Oorala Lecture Theatre, UNE


The concept of “moral panics” continues to be used as a framework for analysing and explaining the causes, structures and functions of social, cultural and political crises. It has been central in shifting critical focus from drug users to how drugs and drug use are problematised. However, as important as this concept has been, neither classical formulations nor more contemporary modifications adequately address the historically constituted social, cultural and political networks and linkages that shape how we think about and act upon psychoactive drug use in industrially developed societies. "Panic" over drugs has been with us for a relatively long time - sometimes at the periphery, often at the centre of moral, medical, legal, social and political debates. Analysing recurrent heightened anxieties around drugs as discreet moral panics does not help to reveal the historical and interdiscursive nature of state, institutional and social regulation and supervision that has shaped our understanding of drugs over the past century. A moral panic framework risks overlooking the interrelationship between contemporary and historical concerns about: crime and corruption; addiction; disease and death; violence and sexual assault; youth delinquency; degeneracy and indolence; prostitution; unemployment and poverty; xenophobia and miscegenation; child vulnerability and familial threats. Not only do we need to analyse the play of interdiscursive relations within and between these events, we also need to identify how these are conditioned by and conditional upon wider networks of power and knowledge at the level of what Foucault calls a “dispositive” — a historically constituted configuration that serves to strategically orientate our response to the drug problem.


Cary Bennett's research and teaching interests include drugs and drug use in society, health and illness, mental health, social aspects of HIV/AIDS, social inequality and global development. Working from a Foucauldian perspective, Cary is interested in exploring how different understandings of drugs, criminality, health and illness are constituted and function through exclusionary social discourses and practices. He has conducted research and published in the areas of recreational drug use and trafficking, drug treatment and education, HIV/AIDS, and global development.

launch seminar recording